Potvin immortalized with a 30-year-old blue line
It's the question you're asked most when you take someone to his or her first New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden.
"What'd they just say?"
Whether it comes from a 5-year-old boy in a child-sized Nigel Dawes jersey or from a first date you met on Match.com, every MSG first-timer wants to know what the blueshirted masses are shouting to the rafters of the World's Most Famous Arena.
Listen carefully, and you'll hear: Three syllables, two simple words that capture the pure, undistilled essence of 30 years of New York Rangers hockey:
For three decades, Rangers fans have been chanting "POTVIN SUCKS!" at the Garden. But why? What could prompt such a prolonged pattern of behavior? Who could inspire this tribute?
For the answer, look no further than Long Island, home of the archrival New York Islanders. Look to their former captain, Hall of Fame defenseman and the cornerstone of the Isles' four Stanley Cups. Look to a 55-year-old hockey announcer who last skated in the NHL when Ronald Reagan was president. Look to Number 5.
Denis Charles Potvin.
Feb. 25 marks the 30th anniversary of the event that spawned the now legendary chant, which has "graced" the Garden for just about every Rangers game since. "POTVIN SUCKS!" — as indelicate as it may be — remains one of hockey's more storied, if obscure, traditions. Granted, it's a lot less dignified than the post-playoff series handshake. And it's a lot less messy than an octopus landing splat on the ice at Detroit's Joe Louis Arena.
But "POTVIN SUCKS!" is hockey. And it is New York.
1979: Hookers and hockey
In 1979, Manhattan wasn't the same place it is now. Smack dealers and CBGB were on Bowery, not a John Varvatos store and a Whole Foods market selling mangos and papaya. Times Square wasn't lined with a Disney Store and TGIFridays; it was lined with peep shows and hookers and drug dealers, a portal to the city's seamier pursuits.
But just a few blocks south, hockey was alive and well at the Garden. Though the Rangers hadn't won a Stanley Cup title in 39 years, they were playoff bound, led by an amalgam of North American mainstays mixed with a new touch of European flair.
Out on the Island, meanwhile, the seven-year-old New York Islanders franchise was considered the most talented, most complete team in the NHL. After disappointing early playoff exits at the hands of the eventual champion Montreal Canadiens in the 1975-76 and '76-77 seasons, the young Isles dropped a heartbreaking seven-game series in overtime of the '77-78 quarterfinals to Toronto. By 1979, they were seasoned, playoff tested, and working on all cylinders. Bryan Trottier was having an MVP season, second-year man Mike Bossy was lighting up the league to the tune of 69 goals, and the consensus was that this was the year the Islanders would finally break through in the postseason.